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  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: February 2016



This man, in the bloom of youth, destroyed the fierce tribes of Palestine by war.

Silius Italicus, Punica 605–606

The [Roman] soldiers held it to be terribly disgraceful if cunning should always prevail over valour, desperation over weapons, mass over expertise, Judaeans over Romans.

Josephus, War 6.20

Polybius relates a number of stories in which Greek and Roman generals capture seemingly unconquerable cities that are of no great value in themselves, but their conquest sends a message: This display of force generates power (Chapter 3). Because defenders trust their such strong walls and remote locations, their fall has a shattering didactic effect. A general capable of doing that must be obeyed. Although Cestius and Vespasian fully exploited display violence to establish local power, as we have seen, Cestius’ rebuff outside Jerusalem left the viability of this fortress polis, deep in Judaea's hills, an open question. Years later, after Titus had safely returned to Rome, his enablers would credit him with the unprecedented achievements of a fortune-blessed conqueror (Chapter 1). But that discloses nothing about his actual intentions in the spring of 70, his changing plans over time, or what transpired between his arrival in the spring of 70 and his departure from a city in ashes.

When Vespasian turned his attention to Jerusalem toward the end of 67, he must have prepared for various outcomes. Galilee had submitted instantly and Samaria was securely in hand (3.307–15). But how long the Judaean campaign would last and what it would entail depended on factors beyond Vespasian's control. Clearly he had to secure the Judaean mother-city in one way or another, but because he faced a human enemy his approach would need to be reassessed constantly. Would Jerusalem capitulate before his arrival, as Sepphoris had, and would its leaders request a garrison as protection against Judaean and neighbouring violence? Among other unknowables, the Flavians could not have known that a lightweight from Galilee, John, would soon become an intransigent leader in Jerusalem.

With respect to high Roman politics, Vespasian could not have imagined when he left ruined Gamala in October 67 that the still-young emperor would take his own life within a few months, launching a bloody civil war.

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A History of the Jewish War
  • Online ISBN: 9781139020718
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